We know that defense, turnovers and special teams were the key reasons Georgia won at Auburn last Saturday. But it’s almost always a bit more complicated than the immediate takeaways. So as we do every Monday we go back and watch the TV footage to see what else can be gleaned from Georgia’s come-from-behind 20-13 victory:
Maybe Gus Malzahn and Auburn got away from what they do best. But Jeremy Pruitt and Georgia deserve some credit for that.
When Auburn’s offense is rolling, it’s with long drives of plays around 5-10 yards each. That was the opening drive, 11 plays for 75 yards with a lot of high-percentage passes. Malzahn started the game with two quick screens outside, then called two runs up the middle, and then another short outside pass. The drive finished with five out of six rushes, including four straight at one point, but the direction of the runs was mixed up — including end-arounds — to keep Georgia’s defense guessing.
You could see Georgia’s adjustments right away: On the first snap of Auburn’s second possession it tried an outside screen but Malkom Parrish was right there, with Leonard Floyd close by as well. But the second drive also exemplified Malzahn’s suspect play-calling: The first two plays were passes (with Floyd notching the sack on second down) while the third-and-14 was the quarterback run by Jeremy Johnson, which might have worked pretty well on second down.
Still, Auburn had another long drive to finish the first half, netting a field goal. Georgia’s defense won this game in the second half.
Analyst Aaron Taylor and CBS had a good graphic that showed the Georgia back seven, particularly the defensive backs, was buying the inside fake too much and leaving the outside open. That stopped in the third and fourth quarters, bottling up the Auburn offense into pocket passing situations — which is exactly what Georgia needed and wanted.
Auburn’s first, second and fourth drives of the second half were good examples of this: The first drive saw Georgia, after giving up one first down, hold firm on a screen pass and run, leading to a third-down completion. On the second and fourth drives, the Tigers ran it on first and second down, then threw incompletions on third down, with Pruitt sending his outside linebackers in for blitzes each time. (Of course on the third drive Auburn had Sean White go in the pocket on first and second down, for some reason.)
So yes, Auburn got away from what succeeded in the first half, especially the opening drive. But Georgia, at least in part, made the Tigers get away from it too.
Two other points:
– Aaron Davis, coming on a cornerback blitz just off the line, helped force the sack-and-fumble by Jordan Jenkins by forcing White inside, right where Jenkins could deck him. That came on second down, after a first-down screen was stopped for 1 yard. This is another example of what Pruitt and Georgia’s defense could do after sort of cutting off the head (Auburn’s ability to get good yardage on first downs). Put the Tigers into passing situations and you can get creative with your blitzes. Of course, Malzahn relied too much on those pocket situations.
– Auburn finally got back to its old offense on the drive that ended with Ricardo Louis’ goal-line fumble. But besides the fumble, the drive was undone by some bad passes by Johnson, so the Tigers were overly reliant on the run to get downfield. There was no big-play ability with the pass game, which allowed Georgia’s defense to key on the run — both on that drive and basically all game.
THE GEORGIA OFFENSE
This wasn’t awe-inspiring, by any means. Effective would be a bit of a stretch. Enough … that’s the right word, but still with reservations and head-scratching moments.
In fact, Georgia’s offense had five drives of seven plays or longer — not much, but an improvement — and only two three-and-outs. It did move the ball. The problem was what it did most of the time after moving the ball.
The goal-line sequence early in the second quarter, when Georgia failed to score after second-and-1 from the 2, saw three straight questionable play calls: A pitch on second down to Sony Michel, who is playing with a cast on his right hand and unsurprisingly fumbled. Then a shotgun handoff on third down, which was stuffed. The fourth-down play call arguably should have been the fullback dive or straight-up I-formation run that was missing the first two plays, but Malcolm Mitchell did get open. Greyson Lambert just missed him. (Behind, and low.)
Shotgun on short-yardage runs only works if the defense buys the idea the quarterback could run it. But every time the defense focused solely on the tailback, with Lambert running clear to the right.
The only time the shotgun on short yardage worked was when Quayvon Hicks got the handoff. (He gained 6 yards. Of course on the next play he got a pitch-out, for some reason, and lost a yard.) Actually the shotgun on short yardage worked one other time: When Lambert threw the ball, hitting Douglas for a 3-yard gain.
A few more points:
– I know people continue to think that Mark Richt is calling plays, but I continue to believe, based on what I’m watching and what I’ve heard, that he’s not but he’s been heavily involved. One sequence for those watching on TV that could confuse people was before the fourth-down incompletion at the goal line. Richt has the play sheet in his hand — which he’s carried for awhile, going back to last season, by the way — and saying something to Schottenheimer before the play. My read on it, and it’s an educated guess, is Schottenheimer was telling Richt what he wanted to call, and then calling it in.
What you didn’t see on TV, but what I saw from the press box, was Richt racing down the sideline as the play is about to begin. I wasn’t sure if he was leery of the call and thinking about calling a timeout, or something else. It’s hard to think of an explanation other than that one.
– There was much less Wild Dog this week. Against Kentucky, there were 10 Wild Dog formations (out of 47 total plays), which averaged 6.5 yards per play. At Auburn it was just seven Wild Dog plays (out of 62 total plays), which averaged 4.5 yards per play. In this case give credit to Brian Schottenheimer (and Richt, presumably) for realizing it was less effective this game and not going to the well too often.
– Christopher Walken voice: Need more roll-outs too. Lambert completed a fourth-down pass to Mitchell on a roll-out right, and also had a nice 7-yard completion to Jay Rome off a roll-out despite being pressured. I know it basically cuts off one half of the field when there’s a roll-out in one direction, but between that and play-action, Lambert is clearly better when he’s doing something with his feet other than sitting in the pocket looking for an open guy.
– When Lambert took a sack on third-and-1, he had Mitchell wide open in the middle of the field and either didn’t see him or just froze. Marshall Morgan’s 40-yard field goal bailed out both the bad decision by Lambert and the questionable play call (yet another third-and-short that didn’t see a simple dive.)
– Believe it or not, it wasn’t all bad, and there were good signs (though late in the season): The tight ends and backs were much more involved in the offense. The first play call was a pass to tight end Jeb Blazevich, gaining 9 yards. There was also the play-action pass to fullback Christian Payne, who was wide open. And there was a well-designed delayed screen to Michel that netted 12 yards on Georgia’s second drive.
– Nobody except Isaiah McKenzie scores that 4-yard touchdown on the jet sweep. Auburn actually had players there but McKenzie darted around them — and Mitchell had a great block.
McKenzie obviously had both touchdowns for Georgia, but one other play shouldn’t escape notice: His tough catch on third-and-4 in the second quarter — reaching back while getting hit in the air — preserved a drive that resulted in a field goal, Georgia’s only points in the first half. His only mistake was a drop on third down on the opening drive of the second half.
– Brendan Douglas’ 20-yard scamper on third-and-41 actually loomed pretty large. It gave Brice Ramsey a bit more room, and his 48-yard punt was downed at the 7. Three plays later the Tigers were punting from deep in their own end, and we know what happened.
– The first deep ball to Mitchell was well-thrown by Lambert, but you couldn’t tell on TV: In person I was watching the route and Mitchell hesitated about 10 or 15 yards before the end of the route, as he was battling the cornerback. Of course it’s about one thing Mitchell has done amid so many good things this season.
In fact, Lambert had some pretty good throws, and unlike previous weeks when he was lucky not to have passes picked off, his misses were rather safe as well. The only truly bad throw he made was also the most glaring: the missed touchdown to Mitchell. But otherwise it was a pretty clean game for Lambert.
And don’t forget Lambert’s 13-yard scramble on third down to keep alive the drive that resulted in the game-tying touchdown.
– Georgia dodged one very early: Reggie Davis fumbled the kickoff after a hard hit, but Kirby Choates recovered it. If Auburn recovers that, it’s in position to build on a 7-0 lead and put Georgia in a potentially demoralizing early hole.
– Another forgotten key play: the facemask penalty against Auburn’s Carl Lawson that negated a failed third-down run by Georgia, and gave the Bulldogs a first down at the 12. It was the correct call, as Lawson had the right side of Terry Godwin’s facemask, but Lawson didn’t need to grab it to make the play.
– Morgan told me after the game that if a field goal is 30 yards or longer it doesn’t really matter to him where he’s kicking from on the field. Richt apparently didn’t believe that: He clearly instructed Schottenheimer to run it to the middle of the field on third-and-long.
The first impression was basically the correct one: Georgia’s defense and special teams won the day. While Georgia’s offense doesn’t exactly deserve any parades, it also took care of the ball and did just enough to stay in the game. That formula was good enough to beat an Auburn team that entered seemingly having figured things out. And it would probably be enough to beat Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech — but only if the Bulldogs can keep the formula going.